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Ovi: Caps must show more of a nose for the net

by Dan Rosen /
PHILADELPHIA -- Alex Ovechkin is calling for his team to crash the net and play angrier, but even he admitted Wednesday that it's not easy to instinctively want to get your nose dirty in front of the blue paint when you're not accustomed to it.

"Sometimes you just think maybe there's going to be a rebound and I'm going to stay outside of the net because I don't want to go there, be in that position where I'll get hit in the neck or an elbow in the face," Ovechkin said after practice at Wells Fargo Center. "You think the puck is going to bounce right to your stick. It happens sometimes, but most of the time you have to go there and fight for that puck."

Most of the time needs to become all of the time for the goal-starved Capitals, who have turned into merely your basic, average offensive team  -- 14th in the League with 2.79 goals per game -- after being the most exciting offensive team in the NHL over the last three seasons.
To get back their offensive swagger the Caps will have to crash and crash hard. If not, they'll just continue to burn.

"It happens quick," Ovechkin said. "We have to go (to the net) when we have to go."

They realized after 40 listless minutes Tuesday night against the Flyers that they had to go, and Mike Knuble and Ovechkin each wound up with goals from within two feet of the net to erase a 2-0 deficit in a game Philadelphia won 3-2 in overtime.

It's those types of goals that NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes said the Capitals "must embrace scoring."

It's those types of goals that coach Bruce Boudreau is calling for his team to score on a regular basis.

"I never see a guy feel pain when they score," Boudreau said. "They don't grimace when they score. They might grimace at the bench, but they're still grimacing with a smile on their face because they scored."

Washington isn't doing enough grimacing, and as a result Ovechkin might be guilty of overhandling the puck.

"Ovi's trying to do too much," Weekes told "You can't be the point guard and the super-skilled forward at the same time. Ovi wants too many rush/attack goals. The cycle game opens everything up, but their offense has now become too predictable and it allows the defense to play the odds and be in a flow.

"The Caps have talent, speed and creativity to put teams off balance defensively, but by trying to force the rush/attack plays on most possessions they do the opposite."

Backstrom, who hasn't scored in 21 games, didn't disagree with Weekes' assessment that the team has become too predictable. He agreed that a cycle game would give them more scoring opportunities.

"So many times we get the puck deep but the other team gets it out right away," Backstrom told "We're not cycling. In the third period (Tuesday) we got the puck deep behind the net and we had longer offensive shifts. That's good."

Brooks Laich said the cycle game isn't coming as easy for the Caps this season because their personnel is different.

Alexander Semin has missed the last five games and eight of the last 21 with a lower-body injury. Eric Fehr has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury. Matt Bradley has missed the last 11 with a broken finger.

The Capitals have been using smaller guys like Mathieu Perreault and for a while Andrew Gordon. DJ King played Tuesday night for the first time since Dec. 6, but he's not exactly an artist down low. Jay Beagle is inexperienced and Tomas Fleischmann isn't around either since he was traded to Colorado in exchange for Scott Hannan in early December.

"The strength of our team was our size and our speed up front and that allowed us to cycle and beat teams down there," Laich said. "Now teams are bringing five guys down low, trying to eliminate our cycle and give us the point shots."

They can still score if the puck is coming from the point, but only if they get bodies in front of the net to deflect, redirect, tip or bang in rebounds.

"It's a mental thing and working to get those opportunities," Laich said. "We have D-men that can shoot the puck, so as forwards we have to beat guys out of the corner, spin off guys and not be denied the positioning in front of the net to find loose pucks."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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